Consumerization of IT is not a really new concept. Consumers (as employees) have been bringing their technology to the workplace for decades, like the pre-HP Palm Pilots and the pre-Google Motorola ‘mobile’ phones.
However, we are now facing a new wave of consumerization, and it changing the way business operates as consumers start to drive a new approach to using and providing information technology.
Historically ‘consumerization of IT’ was driven by a privileged few, and accepted only begrudgingly by IT. Execs could bring a Mac to work, access e-mail on a Droid, and use whatever applications they wanted. The desk-jockeys had to work with what they were given by IT – one of three approved dumbphones or a BlackBerry; a company issued ‘business laptop’ that barely runs Word, let alone Half-Life; and a copy of Office with a horrifically unreliable VPN client.
All of this is changing, and it is changing very quickly. Enter the world of Consumer-Driven IT.
- is not about IT approving a subset of consumer-oriented technologies; it is about IT adopting a broad cross-section of consumer technology and using it to drive business.
- is not about IT ‘pulling’ in technologies it thinks will help; it is about employees and consumers ‘pushing’ new technologies on the business.
- is not about accommodating a privileged few; it is about satisfying the needs of thousands of employees, and millions of customers.
- is not about closing networks, locking down endpoints, and minimizing change; it is about opening up to possibilities, encouraging new work methods, and embracing innovation.
Consumer-driven IT is already here, and it is significantly driven by cloud computing. Employees, like all consumers, are already using services from multiple suppliers, whether IT ‘approves’ or not. From Gmail and Dropbox to Salesforce and Amazon, employees are actively seek out the best tool for the job and using it right away.
Consumer-driven IT extends beyond the enterprise (fire)walls too. Like all consumers, your customers are rapidly becoming used to accessing cloud services whenever it suits them; they are connecting with product and service vendors online; they are interacting with businesses through social media and portable cloud-connected apps.
Yet none of this means that employees are inherently correct in their sourcing decisions. Turn off an Amazon VM and your image may be irrecoverably deleted; store data in the cloud and you may be risking undesirable and unintended disclosure – even outside the US; use an unsecured smartphone for corporate data and you risk exposing company and customer information. This is why IT must meet this new challenge head-on, and be proactive in serving the needs of consumer-driven IT. Employees are already using social, mobile, and cloud resources for work – it is up to IT to help them, not stop them. Provide safe, reliable ways to use cloud and consumer-style services rather than try to stem the tide; encourage better ways of working with mobile applications and capabilities; face this as an opportunity more than a challenge, and drive your business forward.
In any case, you cannot afford to let this challenge – this opportunity – slide. Inaction is not an option.
Leading businesses (including your competitors) are already forging ahead with social, mobile, and cloud computing initiatives, and proactive IT organizations are already gaining significant customer value from them (PDF). They are communicating with customers on their terms, on their websites, on their applications. They are providing iPad applications and SaaS options, and running social media campaigns to improve brand recognition and customer attraction. They are launching online loyalty programs that improve customer retention and drive word of mouth, and increasing their revenue as a result.
Internally, consumer-driven IT means more than just running up a bill with Amazon Web Services. Employees can collaborate more efficiently with SaaS tools like Salesforce.com and ‘enterprise social’ applications like Chatter. They can bring in new suppliers faster with online on-boarding and cloud-based supply chain management. They can increase their reach with new channels and sales forces in new markets with barely a cent in CapEx.
Consumer-driven IT is here. Your employees are using it, your customers are demanding it, and your rivals are capitalizing on it. The choice is yours. If you do not get ahead of this trend – and quickly – you will be left behind.
*Image used under CCL from Wikipedia.